It just didn’t seem right to do a blog roll of Scary Movie Moments and not include that old Master of Suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock. Now, I know that Hitch’s movies in their heyday are really all about thrills not spills, but ole Hitch definitely blurred the lines between thrillers and out-and-out horror on occasion — especially in his later years. Two stellar examples? Psycho and The Birds. (I’m not going to go anywhere near the likes of Frenzy because as I said before this is a family friendly blog, enough said).
Okay now you’re probably waiting for me to start banging on about the shower scene in Psycho. Alright, I’ll admit it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. But I think it bears banging on about, because let’s face it this could very well be the moment when Horror was born in mainstream Hollywood.
The truth is everyone knows the shower scene inside out, or at least they think they do. Janet Leigh happily soaping up a storm as she thinks she’s got away with lifting a few thousand quid from her boss, not even all that put off by the pathetic motel owner she’s just had to share a drink with and all the stuffed birds in his office (come on Janet, wasn’t that a pretty big clue not to go jump in the shower straight away, but to get the hell out of there!). A dark figure looms, whips back the shower curtain and… well, you know what happens next, even if you haven’t seen the movie.
But look a little closer at this scene and you’ll see that it’s not only a seminal exercise in generating suspense — if you didn’t know about Norman’s perchance for checking out his guests, until this point in the movie you’d think you were watching a film about an embezzler after all — it’s also one of the first gore moments in mainstream cinema, even though you don’t actually see any gore (bar a little black liquid flowing down the plughole) and something that will linger in your mind for weeks afterwards whenever you have a shower.
This scene still terrifies me, even though I know what’s going to happen, because there’s something uniquely disturbing about seeing poor Janet naked, in a strange place and knowing what she doesn’t (namely that creepy motel owners who collect stuffed birds are almost certainly cross-dressing serial killers)— then there’s that nails-on-a-blackboard music to add to your terror once Norman/Anthony Perkins gets stuck in (excuse the pun).
Hitch himself once described Psycho as a comedy, which was probably his macabre idea of a joke.
Three years after making sure no-one could ever have a shower again in complete peace, Hitch tapped into another elemental fear in The Birds. And this one tipped the balance into pure horror in my book.
Like all great horror movies, the plot of The Birds, like its title, is deceptively simple (on the surface anyway).
Flighty socialite (Tippi Hedren) follows good-looking geezer (Rod Taylor) to small coastal town with a couple of caged birds in tow but when she gets there the local birds go all Nora Batty on her and decide to peck everyone to death. That said, there are lots of psycho-sexual undertones supposedly bubbling away beneath the surface of that simple Daphne Du Maurier plot. The tasty geezer’s got a bizarrely much younger sister and a loopy widowed mum (Jessica Tandy). The frigid locals think the flighty socialite’s a tart. The spinster school teacher appears to have a crush on the tasty geezer but might also have a crush on the flighty socialite, etc.
So are the bird attacks really an allegory for all the repressed sexual tensions in the town? Frankly, who cares. Surely the point is there is no real explanation for why the birds attack – or why they stop attacking at the end of the movie. And isn’t that the most horrifying thing of all? It’s all completely irrational. Like a phobia. And I defy anyone to watch this movie and then go to London’s Trafalgar Square and let a bunch of pigeons swoop and swarm around them. All of which might explain why Sky Classics are showing it at Prime Time on Halloween Night – and why George Clooney is rumoured to be starring in the remake.